Old school vs. new school at the ballpark

Baseball, like so much of life, has a romantic attachment to the “good old days.”  And indeed there were good old days.  The norm is to knock modernity; if it’s new, it must be tainted, somewhat like steroids.

Well here’s something from 2010 baseball that gives me hope, not only for baseball, but also for how individuals in our society with different loyalties can bridge gaps, share knowledge, and see the “greater good” as more important than those of their “tribe.”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports writer Bernie Miklasz reported on the success of Cardinal hurler Adam Wainwright over the past two years.  Wainwright, like most successful professionals, is constantly seeking to improve his abilities.  At the All-Star Game in Anaheim, Wainwright ran into another consummate professional, Tim Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young Award [best pitcher in his league] winner in the National League.  Last year Lincecum edged out Wainwright even though “Waino” received more first place votes.  They would have good reason to harbor professional jealousy.  They would have good reason to wish for the other one to do poorly.  The both play for teams that could fight for the 2010 National League pennant; conceivably they could even face one another in the seventh game of the National League Championship series.

In Wainwright’s first start following the All-Star game, he pitched six shutout innings.  Manager Tony LaRussa relieved Wainwright early that day because Waino was working on short rest.  Wainwright won the game as the Cardinals eked out a 2-0 victory.

The next day, sportswriter Miklasz wrote:

Wainwright also debuted a new pitch Saturday: a changeup with a grip that he picked up from the Giants’ two-time Cy Young winner, Tim Lincecum, at the All-Star Game. While tinkering with the new grip Friday, Wainwright didn’t feel comfortable.

So Wainwright sent a text message to former Cardinal Todd Wellemeyer (now a Giant) and asked him to take a photo of Lincecum holding the ball in the changeup grip.  Wellemeyer texted the photo to Wainwright, who adjusted his grip to match Lincecum’s.

Wainwright estimates that he threw “eight to 10” changeups to the Dodgers. He was pleased with about half of them. “It’s a work in progress,” Wainwright said.

This is not “your father’s baseball.”  Cardinal Hall of Famer Bob Gibson refused to speak with players from other teams and castigated teammates of his who did.  He suffers when viewing today’s baseball; every time a hitter reaches first base and starts a conversation with the first baseman, Gibson feels anguish and perhaps sees himself as a relic of days gone by.

It’s difficult to disagree with anything about Bob Gibson.  He is regarded as perhaps the toughest competitor in baseball history.  But perhaps that’s the point.  It seems that for Adam Wainwright, Tim Lincecum, and Todd Wellemeyer, it may be important to be a friendly competitor than to be the toughest one.

They still compete, with Wainwright and Lincecum at the top of their profession.  Wellemeyer might wish ill on anyone; he is always an inning or two of disaster away from ending his major league career.  The real “star of this game” is Lincecum, who shared the information (it didn’t take unusual fortitude on Wainwright’s part to accept the information).  Previously,, I didn’t know much about Lincecum; resented his mastery of the Cardinals and the fact that he edged out two Cardinals last year for the Cy Young.

A few years ago baseball ignored proper grammar and called today’s game, “Baseball like it ought to be.”  This is obviously an assertion open to interpretation.  But as someone who likes the idea of people from different tribes getting along with one another, I want to believe that “baseball like it ought to be” includes fraternization of players from different teams.  And if we believe the adage that life can imitate baseball, then wouldn’t it be great if soldiers representing opposing countries or factions would see the greater bond that exists between them than the rift between whomever they might be representing.  If Wainwright and Lincecum can talk, why can’t Netanyahu and Ahmadinejad?

Sharing can be an outgrowth of talking; meaningful dialogue.  So I want to thank Tim Lincecum, Adam Wainwright, and Todd Wellemeyer for dropping the bravado and acting like statesmen.  Now we need more statesmen to act like modern All-Star baseball players.